What is a Resection?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Resection is a common term in the surgical world, which often comes to the notice of the public through media, especially through television shows with medical themes. Of course, many people also hear this term for the first time when they require surgery and are told the surgeon will resect some part of the body. It’s fairly easy to define what is meant when resection is mentioned. It is the removal of part of a section of the body, but usually not total removal of something, such as an organ or limb.

A resection may involve the removal of a portion of the colon.
A resection may involve the removal of a portion of the colon.

There are many types of surgeries that involve resection. Some of the most common include removal of parts of the bowels or colon. These might be necessary to treat certain forms of cancer, scarring from diseases like Crohn’s, or tissue damage from conditions such as diverticulitis. There are clear advantages to resecting rather than fully removing something. For instance, full removal of a colon would likely mean a person has to use a colostomy bag for life; taking out only part of the colon could avoid this step.

Organ donation surgeries may simply involve a resection.
Organ donation surgeries may simply involve a resection.

Plenty of surgeries on organs can be resections. People who donate part of their liver to others essentially have a small amount rather than the whole liver removed. A person in good health will have their liver regenerate in the next few months, and taking out a whole liver of a live person is impossible if the goal is to sustain life. Instead, a person undergoes a liver resection, giving a small amount, while still retaining enough to healthfully function.

A person's liver can be resectioned and given to another person in need of a liver.
A person's liver can be resectioned and given to another person in need of a liver.

Other forms of surgeries that feature resection techniques include those for aortic aneurysms. The weakened area of the aorta is removed and then the whole aorta is reconnected. Many times, when a section is removed, there has to be reconnection afterwards so the body functions as normal. This is true of aortic or bowel resections, and more complicated procedures like the Whipple surgery, which resects parts of the pancreas and stomach.

In cases of aortic aneurysms, the weakened area of the aorta is removed and then the whole aorta is reconnected.
In cases of aortic aneurysms, the weakened area of the aorta is removed and then the whole aorta is reconnected.

There can be some confusion, especially as relates to aortic aneurysm, about the terms resect and dissect. When an aneurysm dissects, the area of the aneurysm rips and could potentially rip through the aorta completely, though this is rare. To avoid this, surgeons may remove or resect the weakened area. More complications occur when the term transect is used, which refers to a rupture or rip of the aorta, most often due to extreme injury as might occur in a very serious car accident.

When an aneurysm dissects, the area of the aneurysm rips and could potentially rip through completely.
When an aneurysm dissects, the area of the aneurysm rips and could potentially rip through completely.

Keeping the terms straight can be difficult for any medical layperson, and most times it may not be necessary to really know the difference. On the other hand, when a person is facing a surgery, he/she may want to bear the difference in mind between resection, or partial removal, and total removal. In certain circumstances people might have surgical options that could include choosing between removing part of something and removing all of it.

A Whipple surgery resects parts of the pancreas and stomach.
A Whipple surgery resects parts of the pancreas and stomach.
Full removal of a colon would likely mean a person has to use a colostomy bag for life.
Full removal of a colon would likely mean a person has to use a colostomy bag for life.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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